If you’ve been following the tragedy that is my 1948 Willys CJ-2A off-road project, you’ve likely concluded that it’s a total basket case and that I should have given up ages ago. Well, you’re right. And the project is still in peril. But there’s good news: my stubbornness has borne some fruit finally, and the Jeep is just now showing signs that it wants to live again.
Since day one, my old Jeep has been putting up a fight. Everything was either broken or has subsequently broken in a hot rusty mess as I tried removing it: all the brakes, the entire electrical system, the engine bearings, the piston rings, the steering box, the water pump, the differential ring gear bolts—seriously, it’s truly incredible how much of this Jeep has broken. I’ve never seen a vehicle with so many broken parts outside a junkyard.
I’ve got 11 days to get this wreck prepared to drive 2,000 miles, and if we’re honest, there’s no way in hell this is going to turn out well. The good news, though, is that this past weekend was fantastic, and the Jeep runs beautifully.
Last week, I wrote this post about how electrical problems could doom this entire project. That’s still true, as the generator remains borked (but it’s currently at the alternator and starter shop being tested), but the starter has been resurrected.
Well, actually, it was never dead. It turns out, there were two reasons the engine wasn’t turning over. First, the battery cables were in rough shape. I tried bypassing that with jumper cables, but it didn’t work. So my friend Brandon went to Tractor Supply Co., picked up some meaty 1-gauge wires, and hooked them up.
The new wires still didn’t let the six-volt battery turn the engine over, but they did finally allow the 12-volt battery to crank the motor with the plugs in. This meant we could fire up the engine with the 12-volt while using the six-volt to power the new ignition coil. Here’s how that worked out:
It was downright glorious! And even better, the fuel pump works, so we didn’t have to keep pouring fuel down the carb!
We let the engine run for about 10 to 15 minutes, at which point we hooked up the six-volt battery, and it fired right up! It turns out, after the rebuild, the engine was a bit tight, and the six-volt couldn’t overcome the resistance.
So a new set of battery cables and a bit of break-in, and we’ve got ourselves a CJ that starts every time.
On Friday, a Jalopnik reader named Pete emailed me, saying he wanted to help wrench on the Willys. As I had never met him before, I thoroughly stalked his Facebook profile, where I learned that he was an auto engineer. That’s when I concluded that the chance of him chopping me up with an angle grinder and burying me in the back woods was probably pretty low, because when have you ever met a murderer who can do Laplace Transforms and partial differential equations?
So I told Pete to come on over, and it turns out, he’s a total boss. He’s got an RX-7, a manual Mazda5, and his wife used to race a manual Toyota Celica. More importantly, Pete can wrench!
He had my gas tank out and cleaned in no time. Then, shortly thereafter, he had my exhaust all hooked up. So now the engine is running off the fuel in the tank, and shooting its exhaust out through the rear of the car instead of near the front, filling my garage with smoke.
Thank you, Pete.
Speaking of boss wrenchers who make me look bad, my friend Steve went wild on Saturday. He and my other friend Clark came over to poke around with the electrical system. I gave him a box of connectors, he grabbed himself some wire, and he jumped on my laptop to look at some wiring diagrams.
Fast forward a couple of hours, and I get up from my permanent position on the cold, oily ground near the rear brakes, and see Steve hanging out under my dash:
“Hey Steve, what’s up?” I asked. “Oh, I just finished up most of your electrical system—everything but the lights is ready to go.” Steve hooked up all my gauges, my coil, my generator and even my key. Seriously, the key actually works! Plus, my friend Brandon installed this foot starter:
Between Brandon getting the engine going, Steve and Clark buttoning up the electricals, and Pete fixing the fuel and exhaust systems, I think I’ve clearly got a great group of friends with lots of talent and a very, very high thresholds for bullshit. They’re great.
Remember that rear diff with three broken ring gear bolts? Well, it turns out only one was broken, and the other two were just missing (the holes were filled with thick gooey grease). I managed to spin that broken bolt out with a pair of vice grips, and now all is well. Here’s a look at the broken bolt shank:
From there, I decided to throw some new bolts in with lock washers and Loctite to keep those bolts from ever having the audacity to back out again. While doing that, I figured I’d remove all the ring gear bolts and give them a similar treatment, only to find three more broken ring gear bolts.
After replacing all the broken bolts and tightening the new Loctite-smothered ones, the rear ring gear still looks a bit crooked. Will this be a major problem at some point down the road? Only the lord knows.
So the Jeep starts and runs just like it should, but there’s still a lot to do. First, I’ve got to finish up the rear brakes, meaning I’ve got to swap out the shoes, and install the new brake line. Then I have to adjust all brakes and bleed them. It’s not difficult, just time consuming.
I also have to install the rear shocks, whose cotter pins I’ll have to drill out because this 69 year-old monster wants to kill me (see image below). I still have to replace all the ring gear bolts in the front diff, fill the differentials with fluid, fill the transfer case, install the driveshafts, figure out the lights, somehow get that front fender on, get that broken generator going, and try to get bump stops in without breaking the bolts into the frame.
Speaking of the frame, I have to figure out a way to connect the body to it; I’m thinking wood blocks with big bolts through the center. Honestly, anything would be better than the current state, as just a little bit of lifting force on the body pulled my steering column out of the steering box (I have since tightened the column, but still. This whole Body Not Connected To Frame is getting sketchy).
Once all that’s done, I’ll need to find some tires. My issue right now is that my wheels are only 4.5-inches wide, and I plan on running 31 x 10.50 tires. Something tells me mounting 10.5-inch wide tires on a 4.5-inch rim isn’t going to happen, so I’ve been junkyard hunting for a set of 5 x 5.5 wheels with a big enough center opening for my hub.
So far, I’ve found three wheels off an old F-150 (you can see one in the picture above), but three wheels won’t do me any good. I’ve got to keep hunting.
Probably my biggest concern right now is my head, which drips coolant on the driver’s side of the block. I may or may not have left a giant gash in the head while trying to pry the thing off the block; whether I’ll fix that leak or just top off the coolant every now and again, I haven’t decided. I’m thinking the latter.
So yeah, there’s still quite a bit of work to do before this thing is ready to drive, but my goal is to have this thing on the road by the middle of this week or this weekend, at the latest. If I don’t get it done by this weekend, then there’s a good chance that 2,000 mile journey will be both the practice session as well as the game, and that’s just a terrible idea.
But the good news is that this Jeep is alive. For how long, only the Jeep gods know.